By Manny PiÃ±ol
In a recent live radio interview over ABS-CBN's DZMM, Presidential candidate Rody Duterte said that one of the most important tasks the country's next leader should focus on is to ensure "Available and Affordable Food" for the 110 million Filipinos.
The following day, none of the mainstream media entities mentioned what Duterte said about making food available and affordable to the ordinary Filipino.
What were highlighted were his position on same-sex marriage, the burial of former President Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani and his one liners describing other political personalities.
Nobody seemed to realise that Duterte's "Available and Affordable Food" statement made him the only candidate in the 2016 Presidential elections who has a profound understanding of the biggest problem of Filipinos now - Food and its Affordability.
Just how important is the availability and affordability of food to the ordinary Filipino?
The basic pay for an ordinary wage earner is P250 in the provinces and P444 in Metro Manila while the
price of one kilo of beef is P260.
The rural worker cannot possibly afford to feed his family with beef while the big city worker will be left with only P184 should he buy a kilo of beef every day.
The P184 will have to be allocated for rice, clothes, water, electric bills, education and a little recreation.
A sack of rice costs an average of P2,000 and if a family consumes a kilo of rice every day, that would mean an additional expenses of P1,200 per month.
I go to the market every now and then and I know first hand that most of the food items on sale are beyond the reach of the common Filipino.
Why is food very expensive in the Philippines?
I can offer several reasons.
First, the cost of producing food in the country is very high. Fertilisers and farm inputs are very expensive and more than that the Philippines is one of the very few countries in the world where rice farmers are actually paying for the salaries of the workers of the National Irrigation Administration as part of their rice produce is collected to pay for irrigation fees.
Second, the cost of transporting food products is very high, that is if transportation is available at all. Poor transport facilities also result in huge damage to the products being transported, losses which are added up to the price of the food items which reach the market in good shape.
Just recently, lacatan banana producers from my province, North Cotabato, complained that they were losing between up to P7 million a week to spoilage because of the absence of fruit vans to bring their products to Metro Manila.
Third, the government has not guided the Filipino farmer on what to produce thus making farming in the country a guessing game. The expensive experiments have resulted in huge losses to the farmers.
Fourth, the full production potential of the Filipino farming families has not been tapped by government. Even such food products which could easily be produced by Filipino farmers like chicken, pork, garlic, onions, dairy and fruits are imported. Officials of the Department of Agriculture have allowed this to continue because there is so much money earned from the issuance of import permits.
Fifth, the government has so far failed to list down the basic food commodities needed by the Filipinos on the a daily basis and in the process committed a monumental blunder of not identifying specific areas based on soil and climatic suitability where these commodities could be grown or produced.
The result is there for everybody to see: the Filipino wage earner goes to the market and shies away from the meat stalls preferring to buy low-priced fish which he feeds his family.
The result is an under-nourished or malnourished generation of Filipinos, all because the cost of food is beyond the reach of the ordinary wage earner.
Who among the current Presidential candidates understand these problems?
Not Jejomar Binay. He must have raised hogs as a young boy but I have not heard him say anything about agriculture and food production. He talks about free Wi-Fi rather than low cost food.
Not Grace Poe Llamanzares. In the three years that she has been in the Senate, Poe has not introduced any bill related to agriculture or food production. I am not even sure if she knows the difference between an ewe and a doe.
Not Manuel Roxas III. While his mother's family owns a sugar mill in Ma-ao, Negros Occidental, I don't believe he knows what a "patdan" is or realises that most of the sugar plantation workers only receive a little over P100 a day.
There is only one Presidential candidate who understands agriculture and food production in relation to the buying capacity of the ordinary Filipino worker.
That is precisely the reason why he is the only candidate who promised Filipinos that he would ensure "Available and Affordable Food."
Starting today, I will write a series of articles expounding on Duterte's thoughts and views on agriculture and food production so that the Filipino farmers and consumers would know what to expect under his Presidency.